The high-end segment isn’t where you’ll find Alcatel. Its phones are comfortably sitting in the mid-range and low-end segments. Alcatel doesn’t want to compete with costly hardware since many other companies are doing that and failing. With affordable hardware, Alcatel can focus on consumers who want to save money but still get a great value. The brand is actually quite popular among prepaid carriers, who seem to constantly add new Alcatel phones to their lineups.
Cricket Wireless is one of Alcatel’s biggest partners. The AT&T-owned prepaid carrier was the exclusive seller of the Idol 4 from 2016, and this year the two are working together again.
Alcatel just released the Idol 5 through Cricket. It’s a mid-range phone that looks and feels high-end. For just $199 you get a phone made of metal that packs decent specifications to maintain a surprisingly good user experience. There’s no doubt Alcatel had to cut corners in certain areas, but the company has enough experience to know what should and shouldn’t be tweaked. Alcatel also looked to its past to improve upon what some didn’t like about last year’s Idol 4.
If you’re a Cricket Wireless in the market for a new phone but don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars, you can’t do any better than the Idol 5.
The Idol 5 is more like 2015’s Idol 3 than 2016’s Idol 4. Alcatel went back to the all-metal design. With the Idol 4, the company wanted to really give a premium vibe. But not everyone loves glass. It collects fingerprints, lint, and scratches easily. The consumers who Alcatel targets don’t want to have to worry about their phones getting dirty or breaking. So the glass was swapped out for aluminum, which is way more durable.
Visually this phone doesn’t depart from the appearance of its two predecessors. The primary material has been altered, but you can easily tell the three are from the same brand. Alcatel is still placing a raised glass panel on top of the body that makes the display looked raised a bit. And above and below the display are a pair of front-facing speakers.
The Idol 5’s Now button on the right side is a useful addition. It debuted last year, and Alcatel kept it around as users have appreciated its customizable layout. You press the button once and it launches quick access to select apps or functions.
If you ask Alcatel, the company will say the Idol 5 has a “timeless design.” That may be a stretch, but you can’t do any better for the price. Nothing about it tells you the phone costs less than $250.
Again, the Idol 5 won’t blow you away on paper. The specifications are actually somewhat underwhelming in areas like the processor and battery. But whatever optimizations Alcatel did make, the Idol 5 performs above expectations.
The display wasn’t going to be a concern as it’s tough to mess up a 5.2-inch Full HD (1920×1080) IPS LCD display, but the screen is quite colorful considering AMOLED technology isn’t present. Colors seem as accurate as they do on a modern flagship. MediaTek’s Helio P20 with 2GB of RAM, however, could’ve been worrisome. Fortunately, it performs smooth and free of stuttering. If anything, load times for games and switching between apps can be slow. But that’s better than having a processor struggling to keep up at all times. Going with a MediaTek-made processor was necessary to keep the phone’s price down, and that hasn’t come back to haunt Alcatel.
People who shop for budget devices don’t need blazing-fast performance. They usually want a phone that can last a decent amount of time on a single charge and take sharable pictures. The Idol 5 lets them achieve those things. The 2850mAh battery lasts throughout the day, and it’ll probably go for two if you don’t play any games or watch more than a few minutes of video.
When the battery runs out, use the fast-charging wall adapter and cable Alcatel included. A nice touch is that it’s a USB-C port, not a micro-USB port. Most non-flagships are still embracing the older technology.
As for the camera, the Idol 5 takes pretty good shots. It’s a 12MP wide-angle lens with an optimized sensor, larger pixels, image stabilization, and dual-tone flash. You don’t normally get half those things for $199. The camera is capable of taking in more light, enhancing results for environments with low light. Pictures on the Idol 5 are better than those from the Moto G5 Plus and Moto G5S Plus.
Alcatel also threw in Panorama Selfie to get more people into pictures taken with the 8MP front-facing camera and Cinemagraph for animated pictures. Both the rear and front cameras are definitely better than what you find on other phones priced similarly.
Alcatel doesn’t toss a lot on top of Android. The software on the Idol 5 largely resembles Google’s mobile operating system, and a fair amount of the pre-installed apps can be removed and not just disabled. So you won’t have to live with Candy Crush Jelly or Cookie Jam using internal storage unless you play those games. Cricket’s apps, though, are there to stay. That’s because the carrier would like you to easily manage your account from the phone.
When you want to get into more immersive entertainment with the Idol 5, grab Alcatel’s UNI360. It’s a virtual reality headset that uses the phone’s display as a view into 360-degree settings. While sold separately, the UNI360 could be valuable for anyone who wants more to do with their budget phone.
Notice that everything said about the Idol 5 is either positive or neutral. There aren’t glaring negatives, which is fantastic for Cricket’s customers. Sure, the phone could be faster and maybe the battery could be a bit larger. Yet the people who will consider buying this phone just don’t need that. What the Idol 5 offers is enough. Cricket’s customers can spend $799 on an iPhone they don’t need or $199 on Alcatel’s Idol 5 that nails the basics.